Two months ago, Kevin Greenspon took his girlfriend, a museum curator, Sarah Jo Collins, and his guitar and PC, got in his car and started driving away from the misnamed Industry, California, for a long, long tour to the Northeast, presenting his music, a mix of ambience and lo-fi pop, to friends and fans and peers across the States. "I will have played in 40 States by the time I reach Portland, Maine", Kevin told me in a Brooklyn pub. Long days of driving, to play a concert in a friends house, or a museum. Sometimes to ten people, sometimes 20, sometimes just for the people who invited him.
Kevin Greenspon is at the forefront of the Lo-Fi DIY movement. Like minded musicians from across the States, who play and release music independent of, well, anyone, for each other and for fans who happen to tap in. Like me. I reviewed a Cloud Nothing concert four years ago (long before anybody had heard of them) and Kevin, who had been releasing split 7 inchers together with Dylan on Kevin's Bridgetown Label, reached out and we have remained friendly since.
I am a very big fan of everything he does. His label has introduced me to Vehicular Blues, Nicole Kidman and Cloud Nothings, as well as his own arresting and beautiful work.
In person Kevin is an odd mix of the diffident and the certain, much like the two types of music he plays. "I think the first thing you heard of mine was the punky poppy stuff I did on the Dylan split."
"I've played music since I was 12, but I was never in band bands or like in a High School bands.I was playing music for myself, recording it at home. I was really interested in hat kind of stuff, people who do it on their own, and some of it never sees the light of day, some of it does. But it never makes it to more than 50 or 100 people. You know, close circles. And I was really interested in that and I still am. So that's kinda where I got a lot of my drive."
Kevin, dressed in shorts and a red tee, is a visualization of an American Everyman. His beard is close cropped and his attitude is also close cropped, it is a magical sort of Zen calmness so strange for the music business. When he discusses how aggressive the driving is in the East he is more bemused by the unnecessary tension than upset. It is hard to imagine Greenspon getting into a fight. And perhaps this influenced the brrring low keyness of his music.
Kevin has a smarter explanation: "The lo-fi thing, for a lot of people, it is the only means they have. Like, for example, I never really had good equipment, or good microphones or gear, or instruments. I don't have a lot of know how. I'm not a classically trained musician. And I'm also not a very avid musician in the terms of formal learning. But I play it and I have fun with it and I think people can still express plenty of ideas that way. And in some cases it may be more honest coming from someone who is just doing it to do it and less to show off prowess or skill level or something like that. Or to show that they have expensive equipment or nice guitar and things.
"So I think a lot of that comes from a lot of people I knew that were making music and were doing it a similar way. Lots of small labels like mine that have been running for maybe ten of fifteen years longer than mine has. And they're just releasing small tapes and CDs or records and only a handful of people hear and the handful of people who hear it really like it. And really connect to it well.
"I don't know why, there are so many reasons why it could. Some of it could be on an emotional level or you could feel 'oh, this is someone like you',, also doing the same things. There are just so many reasons. It is so diverse. So many of the small underground labels that I listen to are so diverse. The underground labels that I like, they are not all doing the same thing. Some of them are really raw, stripped down like folk songs, put it on a tape at home, four track, impossible to hear anything but some of the songs are really, really…. they hit you hard."
Kevin had sent me a demo of one of his songs, "Open Book" and later, hearing the song on the Already Dead split with Nicole Kidman, the demo was better.
"Yeah, I recorded it by myself and later I got the idea to… I don't have a drummer, and I'm not very good at playing with a band… My friends who play drums live three and a half hours away, so there's a distance and I wanted to record it and so I added bass to it and layers of record. And you heard one of the first versions which ended up on my friends label "Family Time Records". All of us on that record are close friends. Just a compilation of our circle and later I did a 'better' version. I wanted to clean it up a little bit, I re-recorded it,, I had my friend Travis put drums on it, add more instruments to it. Its mixed differently."
"There are also times when I want to do songs with a full live band instead of multi tracking and doing all of it myself because some songs become impossible to replicate live. I've tried them live a few times and I wasn't happy with him"
"But the pop songs are like a diversion away. The main thing I'm doing is a composition of sort of ambient, pop minded electronic songs. But it's all in song form, it isn't improvised or experimenting.It's all composed and arranged. I've been playing these songs on this tour and depending upon the situation I will play a few different songs, like in an apartment show versus a larger space. Like today I will probably do some lighter songs. I'm going to be doing songs from Maroon Bells which I brought out. Some older ones too, even from three years ago because, like I said, they are composed and arranged and are songs I can pull back."
"I write with the mentality a band will write their songs. They don't write them to play them once and then never play them again."
This is Kevin's 12th tour. "Now I'm on the East Coast for the first time. I don't know if you could say I have a following but a lot of it is more about friendships then fanbases. There are people I know that I am friends with musically. I have their recordings, they have mine and we become peers. I don't generally go to shows that have more than 20 or 30 people but I go to shows maybe four nights a week."
What happened was fans and peers offered places to stay and play, park his car and stick his sleeping bag. These are folks he first met when they bought songs from him and grew into friends and peers and have allowed him to tour the country.
"So it is a lot of stuff that has been kept under the radar, meaning a lot of us are not too accessible or don't know what we are doing to get known and we are kinda content with that."
Kevin has 85 releases on Bridgetown Records. It has given him an extended family across the US. This is where it is different that punk, because it is not just one genre, different than regional scenes, because it isn't regional. It uses the internet to a degree but vinyl and cassettes as well as CDs are far more popular than MP3s. In a stifled economy, especially in California which has gone bankrupt, it allows young people to delve into a realistic world of sound and deliverance, and economy almost like barter. Playing for a pot of money given by their peers at a performance.
Kevin is a diffident guy. "I don't like being above the other people, I want to be the same. All of us the same. I like to go to a concert and talk to other people and have them no idea I'm a musician till I go and play for them."
Kevin doesn't want to be judged really. He wants to play for his friends, and you as well if you want to be his friend. I've heard a fair amount of Bridgetown releases and it is consistently wonderful music. There is no real difference between Nicole Kidman and Grizzly Bear talentwise. They are as good as each other. Except Jon Barba is in a different business, a Ma And Pa store, with nothing in common to the harshness of the music business.
Interested? Go to Bridgetownrecords.com.
I can’t wait to hear the adds
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – January 1981 (Volume 12, Number 8)
I don’t believe in tomorrows
the night was quite a wild ride
I wish Cliff had beat Stormzy -who I admire but not here
we are all now sold on “Anti-Hero”
A horrorcore anthemic track with creepy vocals and abrasive guitars
they don’t quite show growth they do show
The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 12-2-22 – 12-8-22, Yemi Alade’s “African Baddie” Reviewed
One of the best albums of the year
Want to join me in supporting a good cause?
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – December 1980 (Volume 12, Number 7)
Boy Howdy! did Susan Whitall put together a solid team of writers